Lawyers condemn JDF scrap move

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Monday, July 21, 2014


HE Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) Cebu City Chapter condemns House Bill (HB) 4738, which seeks to abolish the Judiciary Development Fund (JDF), which was created 30 years ago.

IBP Cebu City Chapter president Atty. Elaine Bathan said they will pass a resolution opposing the bill authored by Iloilo Rep. Niel Tupas, an ally of President Benigno Aquino III.

“We will oppose the House bill because it is unconstitutional,” she said. “Article 8, Section 4 (1) of the 1987 Constitution is very clear about the fiscal autonomy. It does not need further interpretation or explanation. As a lawyer, Cong. Tupas should know better that his house bill violates such provision.”

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HB 4738 was filed by Tupas last July 15, a day after Aquino criticized the Supreme Court (SC) for declaring some provisions of the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) unconstitutional.

The lawmaker wrote the bill, saying there were allegations about irregularities in the
allocation and disbursement of JDF.

Bathan said they will send a copy of the resolution to Tupas, including the House of Representatives, Senate, and the SC.

In the bill, Tupas wants to put in place the Judiciary Support Fund (JSF) that, like the JDF, aims to help employees and facilities of the courts in the country.

JSF, however, will be handled by the National Treasury. The judiciary will have no
more hand on the funds.

“All amounts constituting the JSF collected by the courts in accordance with the existing guidelines issued by the Supreme Court (SC) shall be regularly remitted and deposited to the National Treasury as Special Account in the General Fund,” Section 5 of HB 4378 read.

Itemized budget

The fund will only be released if the SC submits an “itemized special budget,” according to the bill’s Section 6.

For Court Stenographers Association of the Philippines president Belinda Go, Tupas’s move violates the constitution, which guarantees the judiciary with financial independence.

Go and other court employees wore either black or red yesterday morning to protest the plan of Aquino’s allies in Congress to scrap JDF.

However, not all employees follow Go, like the Philippine Association of Court Employees (PACE) Cebu president Constancio Alimurung, who wore a brown polo shirt.

Alimurung said he is not participating in the protest for the abolition of JDF “remains to be seen.”

But he respects his fellow employees who are against Tupas’s plans because JDF helps augment their salaries.

Benefit

The JDF was created under Presidential Decree (PD) 1949 in 1984 during the term of former president Ferdinand Marcos “for the benefit of the members and personnel of the Judiciary to help ensure and guarantee the independence of the Judiciary as mandated by the constitution and public policy and required by the impartial administration of justice.”

PD 1949 states that 80 percent of the fund is used for the employees’ cost of living allowances, while 20 percent is intended for the courts’ equipment and facilities.

Tupas, in the bill’s introductory statement, said PD 1949 was “promulgated at a time when democratic institutions (were) not in place and when both executive and legislative powers were vested in the executive,” referring to Marcos’s dictatorship.

He said HB 4738 seeks to address the question of lack of transparency and public accountability of JDF.

But Go said the judiciary is transparent and the JDF is subject to scrutiny by the Commission on Audit (COA).

For Bathan, passing HB 4738 into law means breaking the independence of the judicial branch.

“We will not allow any move that encroaches on the powers of the judiciary, moreso any patent and ill-motivated moves by any government official that will curtail and disrespect our constitution,” she said.

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on July 22, 2014.

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